Berkeley Landmarks :: Weltevreden (Volney D. Moody House)


1755 Le Roy Avenue, Berkeley, CA

Daniella Thompson

Weltevreden on a colorized postcard (photo: Dimitri Shipounoff collection, BAHA archives)

Weltevreden is the Dutch equivalent of the German wohlzufrieden, meaning “well satisfied.” It is a name often used in Holland and its former colonies, from South Africa to Sri Lanka. Weltevreden was the name given in the 18th century to a tony new suburb built twelve kilometers south of the port town of Batavia (now the Gambir area of Jakarta) in the Dutch East Indies. No doubt it was an oasis.

Neither Volney Delos Moody (1829–1901) nor his second wife, Mary (1838–192?), had any Dutch ancestry, but Weltevreden was the name they picked for their retirement oasis, a showplace residence under sheltering oaks on the north fork of Strawberry Creek, located at the corner of Le Roy and Le Conte Avenues. Built in 1896, it attracted much attention. In the Sunset magazine article Berkeley, the Beautiful (December 1906), writer Herman Whitaker described Weltevreden as “most beautiful of all” and the “premier residence of Berkeley.”

In 1902, Architectural Review opined: “It seems as if this house [...] must have stood here always; and rarely does Nature seem to welcome a work of architecture as she does this.” The same article declared: “The walls [...] are built of dark red, or rich brownish ‘clinker bricks’—which before being used by Mr. Schweinfurth for this work were looked upon as inferior or refuse brick, but which have since gained much popularity.” This was said a year before Allanoke (Ernest Coxhead), another celebrated house built of the same material, had been erected next door. In fairness, it ought to be pointed out that Schweinfurth was not the only one using clinker brick in the mid-1890s. The William Bourn house in Pacific Heights, San Francisco (Willis Polk, 1895–96) and the Edwin Tobias Earl house in Los Angeles (Ernest Coxhead, 1895–98) also were clad with this rustic-looking alternative to brown shingles.

Charles Keeler, whose own house on Highland Place was built in 1895, would later write:

Mr. Moody, a retired banker of Oakland, came with his son-in-law to see our home, and we persuaded them to join our group. They had already picked another architect, Mr. Schweinfurth, to design a Dutch house for them. So they built a beautiful home in the canyon a block below us, and the two daughters of the house, with a few other ladies in the neighborhood, organized the Hillside Club to carry out through a formal club what we had been attempting to do informally in persuading a neighborhood to adopt the Maybeck principles in architecture.

Weltevreden, south fašade & bridge leading to entrance (Architectural Review, Vol. 9, March 1902)

On 6 November 1896, the Berkeley Daily Advocate reported in the story New Berkeley Residence—An Elegant Design for Dr. Mary Moody:

Dr. Mary Moody, the wife of an Oakland banker, has signed contracts for the erection of a dwelling on her extensive grounds adjoining the State University, which will differ both in outside appearance and inside arrangement from any other residence in that classic neighborhood. The house will be in Flemish style, of brick, and the entrance will be in the rear, as regards the road, over a bridge spanning a creek. The interior features of Mrs. Moody’s house will be its open and exposed construction. In the living room an application of Florence leaf will be made, producing an effect of iridescent gold between the beams, while in the dining-room turquoise blue will be set off by the dark colored beams.

The 1902 Architectural Review article, titled The Later Work of A. C. Schweinfurth, Architect, furnished the following description of the house:

The walls of the Berkeley house are built of dark red, or rich brownish “clinker bricks”—which before being used by Mr. Schweinfurth for this work were looked upon as inferior or refuse brick, but which have since gained much popularity. The varying degrees of vitrified color give the walls of the house a peculiarly rich and soft texture, quite free from the cast-steel appearance so much affected in brick-work until quite recently. The wooden beams are weathered gray, and on the lintel over the entrance to veranda is the name “Weltenreden” [sic]. Although evidently inspired to some degree by Dutch work, and although its garden setting is almost Japanese, the whole is pervaded by the old Spanish feeling characteristic of the locality. The “fat” columns of the veranda are built of “headers,” with heavy flat tile abaci at the tops. [...]

Mrs. Moody, her daughters & a male cousin on the Weltevreden veranda (Architectural Review, Vol. 9, March 1902)

The house reflects the architect’s personality. It was built for an intimate friend who was in sympathy with his views, and was erected not through mere slavish adherence to drawings made in the office, but by direct contact between the architect and the actual workers on the building. In other words, the architect selected the bricks for the brick-layer with his own hands, and indeed often laid them himself to prove that the work could be done as he intended.

As well-satisfied as Moody must have been with his new house, he didn’t live long to enjoy it. His obituary in the San Jose Daily Mercury, published on Friday, 29 March 1901, read:

Volney D. Moody
Death of a Widely Known Pioneer Formerly of San Jose

Volney D. Moody, for many years a resident of this city, died at his home in Berkeley Wednesday night, after a paralytic prostration of three years. He was a native of Rodman, Jefferson county, New York, where he was born, August 15, 1829. He was educated in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and crossed the plains with his parents in 1849. He engaged in lumbering and milling in Santa Clara county, and with his brothers, Charles and David B. Moody, conducted Moody’s mill [a San Jose Historic City Landmark] on Third street near Santa Clara street, in this city, for nearly twenty years. Some years before the sale of their property to the Central Milling Company, now the Sperry Company, he disposed of his interest to his brothers and removed to Oakland, where he became largely interested in realty and numerous business enterprises. He has at various times been President of the First National Gold Bank, Home Savings Bank, and Vice-President of the State Bank, all of Oakland, also of the Oakland Home Insurance Company. He was at one time a part owner in the Moody gulch property, where the Santa Clara county oil wells are located. He leaves a son and two daughters. His estate is worth a half million dollars.

Moody’s son and two daughters—William C. Moody, Mrs. Nellie E. Blood, and Mrs. Jessie L. Appleton—were the offspring of his first marriage to Adaline Wright Moody, whom he divorced (she became Mrs. Henry Hubbard) before marrying Mary Robinson, a widowed teacher with two daughters. The latter, May and Margaret (“Madge”), continued to live with their mother as adults. All three were still residing at Weltevreden in 1919, when they and approximately 40 neighbors signed a petition to the Berkeley City Council, protesting the removal of a large oak tree from Le Conte Avenue. At that time, the house address was 1725 Le Roy Avenue.

Mary Moody’s elder daughter, May Gray (b. 1869), was a music teacher whose first husband, Edmund S. Gray (the son-in-law mentioned by Keeler), lived at Weltevreden until his death on 8 March 1899 (Keeler wrote a eulogy and poem in his memory, published in the April 1899 issue of The Pacific Unitarian).

May’s younger sister, Margaret F. Robinson (b. 1871), did not marry until 1903, although she was frequently mentioned in the newspapers as “Mrs. Margaret Robinson.” When she finally tied the knot, it was with the prominent Pictorialist photographer Oscar Maurer (1871–1965). The couple settled down in Oscar’s studio at 529 Sutter Street in San Francisco. After the studio was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and fire, Madge and Oscar relocated to Weltevreden. Maurer’s parents and brother moved to 1726 Le Roy Ave. across the street, settling in a Mission Revival house built in 1905, apparently by Frank E. Armstrong. In 1907, the photographer commissioned Bernard Maybeck to build him a new studio at 1724 (now 1772) Le Roy Avenue, next door to his parents’ house.

Some time around 1914, May married George E. Stone, a filmmaker and photographer. At the time, Madge and Oscar were living in Del Mar, near San Diego, before moving to Los Angeles. The Maurers divorced in the early 1920s, each finding a new spouse. The group photo above shows Mrs. Moody, her daughters, and a male cousin in 1902, after both Volney Moody and Edmund Gray had passed away.

The Moody-Maurer party on its way to the Big Game (photo courtesy of Marci Thomas, BAHA archives)

The photo above, taken in front of Allanoke and marked only “Big Game,” depicts Oscar Maurer driving a party consisting of Mary Moody, her daughters Madge Maurer (next to Oscar) and May Gray (extreme left), and an older, unidentified gentleman. It is unlikely that the group would have ventured all the way to Palo Alto for the game, as there were no bridges spanning the bay at that time. They were probably driving the short distance to California Field, a 17,000-seat enclosed space designed by John Galen Howard and constructed on the site now occupied by the Hearst Gymnasium for Women. Judging by the car, a Pope-Hartford (either a 1906 Model F or a 1907 Model L), the year must have been 1906, ’08, ’10, or ’12. The only fact known with certainty is that the game played that year was rugby, as we learn from the following passage in The Centennial of the university of California, 1868–1968:

It was expensive as well as inconvenient to hold football games in San Francisco and in 1904, California Field was constructed on the Berkeley campus. The 14th big game was played there, a contest in which the teams employed the brutal type of play prevalent in the country at that time. There were a number of injuries, a fact that helped President Wheeler and President David Starr Jordan of Stanford University decide to abandon American football for rugby. In 1915, after the rules of American football had been changed to make the game less dangerous to play, Wheeler agreed to switch back again.

Mrs. Moody also owned the property directly to the east at 2612 (now 2634) Le Conte Avenue, where she built a one-story, 3-room board & batten structure. The building permit, dated 29 October 1914, specifies the use as ‘studio.’ The stated cost was $500, the contractor was William Converse, and the property address was given as ‘125 feet east of Le Roy.’ In one of the Sanborn fire insurance maps, this studio is labeled “private laboratory,” which led some architectural historians to believe that the lab was a medical one. However, it is far more likely to have served as George E. Stone’s photographic laboratory. In 1916, Stone produced a film titled “How Life Begins,” illustrating the prenatal development and birth of various types of organisms, including a flower, a frog, a rat, a butterfly, and microscopic organisms found in pond water. His 1920 film ‘The Living World’ (1920) presents an outline of general biological groups, studying microscopic life, plants, trees and animals.áThe production company was George E. Stone Laboratories.

Owing to the confusion over the laboratory, various publications identified Mrs. Moody as Mary Winegar Moody, M.D., listed in the 1895 edition of the Illustrated History of the University of California as a “Member of the Clinical Staff of Children’s Hospital; Physician” or as Mary F. Moody (’82), “Vice-president of the Alumni Association of the Medical Department.” In fact, she was neither. The physician was a Miss Mary Moody, listed as a San Francisco resident in 1895 and 1905. There was also a Dr. Mary Moody in Berkeley, listed in the 1915 Husted’s city directory as Moody Mary B., physician (widow Lucius W.), residing at 2826 Garber. In the same 1915 directory, Mary Moody, widow of Volney D. and resident of 1725 Le Roy Avenue, was listed as a teacher. The 2600 block of Le Conte Avenue had its share of teachers: just east of Weltevreden, at 2620 (now 2656) Le Conte, lived the teacher Lydia Atterbury, and professor Henry Hatfield lived at 2633 (now 2695) Le Conte.

Albert C. Schweinfurth (Richard Longstreth collection)

Weltevreden’s architect succumbed even earlier than its owner. Son of the German engineer Charles J. Schweinfurth, who had immigrated to the U.S. in 1849, Albert Cicero Schweinfurth (1863–1900) received his introductory design training at his father’s architectural ornament business in Auburn, N.Y. His three brothers also became architects, Charles Frederick (1856–1919) and Julius Adolph (1858–1931) gaining national reputations. In 1879 Albert moved to Boston, sharing an apartment with Julius Adolph, and worked for a year at J.R. Osgood & Co., printers of the American Architect, before securing a position as draftsman in the architectural office of Peabody & Stearns.

From 1885 until 1888, he was employed by A. Page Brown (1859–1896) in New York. While in that office, he was responsible for the design of the Museum of Historic Art at Princeton University (1886–92). In 1886, Schweinfurth left Brown’s office to work with his brother Charles in Cleveland but returned within the year. In 1888 he opened an independent practice in New York, but that, too, proved unsuccessful. His obituary in The American Architect and Building News informs:

Here excessive application to his profession brought on illness, and he was obliged to remove to Denver, Col., where he soon felt the benefit of the climate. In Denver may be seen many examples of his work, distinguished by its peculiar simple dignity and refinement. In 1890, having recovered his health, he removed to San Francisco, where he assisted Mr. A. Page Brown in the erection of many large and important works; he, being entrusted with their design and execution, thus rendered valuable service in beautifying the city.

As the chief designer in A. Page Brown’s San Francisco office, Schweinfurth would at times work alongside Willis Polk, Bernard Maybeck, and Joachim Mathisen. While in that office, Schweinfurth was responsible for executing major commissions such as the San Francisco Ferry Building (1893–98) and Trinity Episcopal Church on Bush at Gough Street. Schweinfurth and Brown are credited with having been the first to introduce the Mission Revival style, in the California Building they designed for the 1893 Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition. (Maybeck and Mathisen submitted an independent entry to the design competition, and their proposed building contained many of the same Mission elements.)

Although Schweinfurth’s role in the design of Joseph Worcester’s Swedenborgian Church of San Francisco has been disputed by some architectural historians, the National Historic Landmark Nomination for the church makes a case for Schweinfurth’s involvement. Furthermore, in his book On the Edge of the World: Four Architects in San Francisco at the Turn of the Century, Richard Longstreth informs that “Maybeck has usually been given credit for the building itself, but Schweinfurth was the key figure according to Bruce Porter in an interview with Elizabeth Thompson conducted shortly before his death. [...] Porter also stated that Maybeck played a minor role in the project.”

In 1894, Schweinfurth left Brown for the last time, establishing a successful practice under William Randolph Hearst’s patronage. His first commission was a country estate in Pleasanton, Hacienda del Pozo de Verona (1895), which was appropriated and brought to completion by Hearst’s mother, Phoebe Apperson Hearst.

Drawing on Hispanic and Pueblo traditions, the Hacienda was called by Charles F. Lummis “The greatest California patio house” in the October 1904 issue of Country Life in America, while The California Architect and Building News (Vol. XX, No. 9) opined:

Mrs. Hearst’s house was designed by Mr. Schweinfurth, one of the most talented architects of the United States. He stands to this style somewhat as Norman Shaw does to Queen Anne. The one using a creamy colored stucco where the other employs a deep rose brick work. The one style in clear California light being as happy as the other is in the thick grey atmosphere of London.

Other important Schweinfurth projects commissioned by William Randolph Hearst or spurred by him were the San Francisco Examiner building at Third and Market streets (1897, burned in 1906) and the circular brick Little Jim Ward (1895) and matching Eye and Ear Pavilion (1896–97) of the San Francisco Children’s Hospital on California Street at Maple. All evidence points to the conclusion that until his death, Schweinfurth was to the Hearsts what Bernard Maybeck and later Julia Morgan would come to represent.

On 27 May 1898, Schweinfurth applied for a passport for himself, his wife Fanny, and their 7-year-old daughter Katrina. The passport was issued on 2 June, and the three embarked on a two-year trip through Italy and France. On their return, Schweinfurth suffered an attack of typhoid fever while spending the summer with Fanny’s family in Dryden, N.Y. He died there on 27 September 1900. His widow and daughter did not return to San Francisco but went to live in Brookline, Mass., where Julius Schweinfurth made his home.

Schweinfurth’s Berkeley legacy is summed up in two buildings. The second is the First Unitarian Church (1898), located at 2401 Bancroft Way and Dana Street, now on the U.C. campus. Although this landmark of early Brown Shingle style differs considerably from Weltevreden, its hefty columns—this time natural redwood trunks—clearly mirror the earlier structure’s brick columns.

First Unitarian Church circa 1915 (Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley)

The Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley’s official history recalls:

It was the creation of architect A.C. Schweinfurth of the office of A. Page Brown & Co. of San Francisco and New York. He had been instructed to use only the best materials for each purpose. Bernard Maybeck, then a young member of the congregation and eventually a famous California architect, worked in the same offices and may have helped with the church’s design. It was an excellent early example of the Bay Area Shingle style. The building was 40 feet square, with a basement. A member gave the redwood pillars that graced the two front entrances and there were other gifts.

Beyond the “fat” columns, the church had one more thing in common with Weltevreden. In his book On the Edge of the World: Four Architects in San Francisco at the Turn of the Century, Richard Longstreth writes:

E.S. Gray, Volney Moody’s son-in-law and the real client for the Moody house, was a prominent member of the congregation. Church records show that he asked Schweinfurth to prepare plans for the building even before an architect had been officially chosen. Gray also superintended construction of the building while Schweinfurth was in Europe. Mathisen prepared plans for the building four years earlier, but his scheme apparently proved too expensive (San Francisco Chronicle, November 18, 1894).

The church building today: U.C. Dance Studio (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004)

The University of California acquired the Unitarian Church property in 1960, and the congregation moved to Kensington the following year. The parish house and auxiliary structure were razed in 1965 to clear land for the Zellerbach Auditorium and Playhouse complex. The church building was retained and has been converted into the Dramatic Arts Department’s dance studio. In 1998, the building underwent seismic, life safety, and ADA upgrades at a cost of $778,000 (100 years earlier, the original construction cost came to a grand total of $5,924.81, including furniture and insurance).

Weltevreden’s fortunes have changed too. It escaped the fire of 1923, but not the ravages caused by a growing population. Mary Moody was last listed as residing there in 1922. By 1925 or ’26, the building had become the Mu Zeta chapter house of Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity, formerly at 2433 Durant Avenue. In 1957, after the City of Berkeley condemned the building, architect Michael Goodman enlarged it to accommodate forty-four residents by removing the stepped gable ends and adding a full third story and a kitchen-and-library wing on the eastern end. The ground-floor veranda and the second-floor balcony were enclosed, and the two upper floors were clad in stucco, leaving the brick on the ground floor. By 1973, the chapter’s membership had declined, and it could no longer sustain the house. The University of California Marching Band, having outgrown its own house at 2421 Prospect Avenue, offered Lambda Chi Alpha a trade, and Weltevreden became Tellefsen Hall.

What the old house and the band had in common was the presence of William L. Ellsworth, the long-time Cal Band announcer and Rally Committee advisor known to all as the “Fossil.”

I love a fossil, I always will
Because a fossil gives me such a thrill
When I was little and but a child
A certain fossil drove me wild.

Bill Ellsworth enrolled at Cal in the fall of 1946 and joined the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity, residing at the Mu Zeta chapter house. He played the alto saxophone in the Cal Band, and continued marching even after he had graduated in 1954. It wasn’t until 1957 that the band took notice of this anomaly and created the announcer spot for him. Over time, Bill became known as the “Founder of the Cal Band.” The library at Tellefsen Hall is named after Ellsworth, who died in 1973, just as his beloved band was getting ready to move into his old fraternity house.

Clinker-brick bridge (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004)

South fašade (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004)

Weltevreden was designated a City of Berkeley Landmark, Structure of Merit, in August 1990. It is listed in the California State Historic Resources Inventory. The designation helped preserve the clinker-brick exterior in 2002, when the bulding underwent a retrofit and renovation. Unfortunately, the front yard—once a garden—is being used as an unsightly parking lot, and the residents of Tellefsen Hall have done nothing to screen it, despite repeated pleas from the neighbors.

 Tellefsen Hall from the air in 1994. It is the large structure on the extreme left, with a parking lot below. The entire half block on the right is occupied by the estate of Allanoke. Click the photo for an aerial view of Daley’s Scenic Park.

See also:

Volney D. Moody, Serial Entrepreneur, Left a Mixed Legacy in Alameda County
16 June 2008

Weltevreden Was Berkeley’s “Premier Residence” 100 Years Ago
23 June 2008

The Shrinking Legacy of Volney D. Moody and His Heirs
10 July 2008



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